SAF4: Antonio Johnson (Texas A&M)
Antonio Johnson looks the part of a new-age safety. He boasts a sturdy frame, standing 6-foot-2 and weighing 198 pounds. Johnson uses this size to be effective in run support. He works well off blocks, and although he has missed tackles on tape, his form is near-perfect, making this less of a concern.
In coverage, Johnson is best suited in the slot. Nearly 70 percent of his career snaps came from the inside, giving teams a potential plug-and-play option. The former Aggie didn’t come down with many interceptions, but his ball skills at the catch point are borderline elite.
Johnson didn’t spend time as a deep safety with Texas A&M because he struggles to stick with receivers downfield. Johnson is fast enough, but too often, he was burnt to a crisp when his assignment got loose. Inside 15 yards, the star safety can stop anybody. Deeper than that? You’re playing with fire.
All in all, Johnson has adequate size, speed, drive, and instincts. He needs to work on finishing tackles and increasing his flexibility as he works downfield. If Johnson is asked to play primarily in the box or as a slot defender, he will be an instant contributor as a rookie.
NFL Draft Grade: Early-to-Mid Day 2
SAF3: Sydney Brown (Illinois)
Sydney Brown is another favorite of mine, as the Illinois secondary gains another member in these rankings. Like Martin, Brown is a mystifying athlete. He posted a pristine 9.66 RAS, acing the explosion and speed drills with flying colors.
This performance was expected for Brown, having a track star background from his high school days. The speed shows up on tape, as Brown displays elite range in the defensive backfield. His top-end speed is impressive, but not as impressive as his ability to cut on a dime.
Physically, Brown is a marvel. Mentally, he is even better. The Illini veteran has five years of college experience under his belt. He uses this experience to read and react efficiently. Brown wastes zero motion, regularly being in the right place at the right time on tape.
The concerns around Brown’s game are mostly technical. He is known to miss tackles at far too high of a rate, evident by his career 17.8 percent missed tackle rate. At 23 years old, Brown is also older than some would like, leading them to believe that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”.
I do not subscribe to this thought process. NFL coaches make the big bucks to develop players like Brown, and I trust a coaching staff to do exactly that. Clean up the fundamentals and allow Brown to utilize his god-given traits as an every-down safety.
NFL Draft Grade: Early Day 2